The HSUS has long opposed the war on wildlife waged by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services agency, a wrongheaded and wasteful program that kills millions of animals each year, often with the use of indiscriminate weapons like steel-jawed leghold traps and poisons like “cyanide bombs.” The cost of this cruel killing is borne by American taxpayers, and the traps and poisons used inflict major collateral damage on non-target wildlife and their habitat, including endangered wildlife and pets. Last year, teenager Canyon Mansfield and his three-year-old Labrador, Casey, were in the news when Canyon accidentally triggered a cyanide bomb, known as an M-44, that killed his dog right before his eyes.
Today, a federal judge in Montana approved a settlement that compels the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service to evaluate the risks of M-44s and Compound 1080 — two of the most deadly and indiscriminate poisons in Wildlife Services’ arsenal. The decision came in response to an Endangered Species Act lawsuit filed by The HSUS and its coalition partners, the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians.
The M-44 device is a metal tube topped with a smelly bait designed to lure wild carnivores such as coyotes. The metal tube contains a piston mechanism that, when triggered, plunges into a polyethylene capsule of sodium cyanide. The powdered cyanide sprays into the mouth of the victim where it mixes with saliva and turns into deadly cyanide gas that is readily absorbed into the lungs, causing asphyxiation. M-44s do not discriminate between “target” animals, like coyotes and foxes, and “non-target” victims, like people, family pets, wolves, bears, cattle, and bald eagles. Wildlife Services data show that in 2016 alone, M-44s killed 13,208 animals, including hundreds of non-target species such as dogs, foxes, raccoons, opposums, and skunks, in addition to the thousands of coyotes and other target species killed each year. In just one state, Texas, in 2016, Wildlife Services intentionally killed 4,738 animals with M-44s, including 4,210 coyotes, 466 gray foxes, and 56 red foxes.
Today’s victory is long overdue. As early as 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency – which registers the poisons and prescribes their use – recognized the likely impact of these poisons on fragile populations of grizzly bears, Canada lynx, gray wolves, California condors, and bald eagles. At that time, the EPA requested a formal analysis by FWS, which has a statutory duty to protect species threatened with extinction. The HSUS and its partners brought this lawsuit after six years of inaction by the FWS. The FWS needs to do better, and we are hopeful that this consultation will force them to reckon with the unacceptable havoc wrought by these inhumane devices.
While this win builds on incremental progress we’ve seen in recent months, much work remains. Wildlife Services is in the business of killing millions of animals per year, wastefully subsidizing hunting and ranching interests from the public. And in states like Colorado, Alaska, and New Mexico, wildlife agencies are ramping up their own wars on predators – often underwritten by federal grants apportioned through the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, a law whose purpose is to conserve, not massacre, native wildlife.
The Endangered Species Act is now under siege by lawmakers and others with a misguided and malicious view of predators and predator management. But today’s outcome underscores the ongoing importance of upholding FWS’s duty to robustly enforce “the most comprehensive legislation for the preservation of endangered species enacted by any nation.” Every component of the ESA – including its consultation provision – plays a key part in protecting wildlife and public lands from inhumane and environmentally destructive practices, including the use of cyanide bombs. Today’s decision is not merely a victory for the rule of law, but a win for what’s right in the protection of wildlife in the United States.